Three things to watch in Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game against the Cincinnati Bengals:
Raise your hand
Unless they’re leading in the fourth quarter, the Panthers will have trouble pressuring Andy Dalton, who’s been sacked once in four games. Dalton gets good protection and releases the ball quickly in a passing offense that features a lot of short routes in the flat. That doesn’t mean the Panthers can’t disrupt Dalton. The defensive linemen need to get their hands up to try to knock down passes and make it tougher for Dalton to find throwing lanes. With the Bengals missing leading receiver A.J. Green, the Panthers can take more chances by blitzing while playing man coverage in the secondary.
Make a run for it
The Panthers’ best backs remain on the training room table, but that doesn’t mean they should abandon the running game. The Bengals give up 140 rushing yards a game, which ranks 27th in the NFL, and were gashed for 220 yards last week in a loss to New England. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton ran more zone-read plays last week, and it’s reasonable to think Mike Shula will increase Newton’s carries a tick. And though the Panthers might be down to their fourth-, fifth- and sixth-string running backs, two of them – Fozzy Whittaker and Chris Ogbonnaya – had success against Cincinnati while with Cleveland.
Look for big plays on special teams
Fans may not want to head to the fridge when either team lines up to punt. There’s never a dull moment with Panthers rookie punt returner Philly Brown, who has a touchdown and two fumbles over the past three games. And then there’s the Bengals’ Adam “Pacman” Jones, who leads the league with a 23.6-yard punt return average and had 47-yard return against the Patriots to set up a touchdown. Panthers punter Brad Nortman needs to get good hang time to allow his coverage team to get down the field. But Jones will still take a shot: He hasn’t had a fair catch since 2006, a span of 70 punts.